• Mon. Sep 20th, 2021

Kourtney Porter, Chief of Staff for Cincinnati Councilmember Jan-Michele Lemon Kearney, works with neighborhood children to make decorations for the business district. Photo by Jan Kearney

Neighborhood decorates on Burnet and Forest

By Anthony Johnson

Herald Contributor

“It’s really about community engagement,” says Councilmember Jan-Michele Lemon Kearney, referring to the holiday lights and decorations that started going up in Avondale on Friday, December 11. “Community engagement, cleaning up and beautifying are just steps toward reducing violence and moving toward the type of community that everyone wants: a safe, beautiful place where there are opportunities for everyone.” She adds, “Gun violence and crime have no place here or anywhere else.”

On December 11, the Cincinnati Zoo started putting up lights on the corner of Burnet and Forest (an area where several recent murders occurred), and residents decorated and hang wreaths along a fence in the business district. “It was fun to have residents walk the area with Mark Fisher of the Cincinnati Zoo last week to decide what decorations are needed,” Kearney said. Home Depot and Meijer donated the wreaths to CPD District 4. The Uptown Consortium bought the decorating supplies, and had pizza on hand for the decorators. “Avondale resident Jennifer Foster agreed to be the decorating chair, and she has recruited youth and families to assist in a way that allows social distancing,” Kearney said.

Captain Mark Burns and Lt. Jonathan Cunningham of CPD’s District 4 also reached out to the Cincinnati Reds Foundation to decorate the Avondale Town Center on Reading and Rockdale. Those plans are in the works. In addition, the owners of the strip mall across the street will hang lights as well. Total Logistics then donated toys to District 4, so Lt. Cunningham will organize a Santa toy giveaway in areas of Avondale, including Colonial Village, which has experienced a great deal of trauma this year.

“The decorations today, and Santa toy giveaways later in the month are just a part of community engagement and uplifting,” said Kearney.

After the holidays, residents will meet to discuss next steps. Captain Burns and Lt. Cunningham have mentioned the possibility of bringing back Citizens on Patrol, for example.

AVONDALE SAFETY GROUP:

Kearney’s involvement happened when Beth Robinson, President and CEO of Uptown Consortium, asked her to form an Avondale Safety Group due to the shootings happening in the business district on Burnet. “Everyone came together,” Kearney said.

In addition to Uptown Consortium staff, CPD District 4, Avondale Community Council president Sandra Jones Mitchell and members of her executive board, Avondale Development Corporation President & CEO Russ Hairston and Development Director April Galleli, WEB Ventures’ Bill Witten, community advocates such as Ozie Davis, Mitch Morris, Jennifer Foster, and Pastor Ennis Tait, POAH Properties representative Travis LeMaster, business owners, community residents, and several others jumped on the initial call in November, and have continued to meet weekly.

“Our ACC president, Sandra Mitchell constantly reminds us that community engagement is the key, and that community residents have to be involved in uplifting Avondale,” Kearney said.

She added that the group is looking at ways to support Avondale Development Corporation’s formation of a new youth ambassadors program and adult ambassadors program, both led by ADC Development Corporation’s April Galleli.

Uptown’s Robinson wants to see positive messages and art decorating the large temporary fence that was erected in the business district to stop the loitering. After seeing a story by Michelle Hopkins in a Children’s Hospital newsletter, Kearney said she wanted Avondale youth to be recruited to paint art on the fence, under the direction of artists Brent Billingsley and Michael Coppage, who work for Children’s Hospital and were featured in Hopkins’ story.

“The idea is to use the fence art project as a way to recruit ambassadors for April Galleli’s ambassadors program. At the first Avondale Safety Group meeting, it was said that our youth are feeling hopeless and bored, and that is one of the reasons that some are moving toward gang life”, said Kearney. “We are going to show them a better way, a better life. We need them to be positive contributors to Avondale and to Cincinnati.”

“There is no easy solution to violence, but residents, community leaders and advocates, business owners, the police department, and stakeholders are working together in Avondale, and I am proud of their work and energy,” Kearney added.